I have always felt I could relate to wildlife. I like to spend time away from people, I prefer wilderness camping and one of my favorite activities is bounding through the woods full bore over roots and rocks, albeit on a mountain bike.

Now add a fondness for fermented fruit to the list of habits I share with wildlife. In fact I’ve been drinking hard cider since before it was fashionable, before the micro-brew explosion happened in the United States. I discovered it in Ireland in 1995, when my cousins there made fun of me for drinking it. I was ahead of my time.

Now I discover some Maine wildlife also favor fermented fruit, although there are plenty of misconceptions and false tales regarding beasts with a buzz. Take last week.

On Monday a strange post was circulated on Facebook of a “drunken” moose in Aroostook County. The moose was said to have munched on fermented apples. So a question went around our newsroom – do wildlife imbibe? And the question, of course, came to my desk.

The Facebook post has been removed but what it likely showed was a sick moose, said moose biologist Lee Kantar.

“It’s hard to imagine such a large animal eating that large a volume of food. Not to mention moose eat (tree) browse. Moose are not big on eating stuff off the ground,” Kantar said. “That doesn’t seem too realistic to me. All the biologists I’ve talked to in North America, it’s nothing I’ve ever heard of. It doesn’t fit.”

Bears, on the other hand, are believed to enjoy a fermented apple or two, but here again, a bear seen stumbling, falling or swaying could also be one with a neurological disease, which is far from something that should be photographed, posted on social media and described as humorous.

In bears, a common neurological disorder that causes stumbling is called Tay-Sachs disease, which moose biologist Randy Cross said is rare in Maine. But symptoms include stumbling and swaying as the animal nears death.

“It could be that they got into the right apple orchard at the right time in the right temperature, and it could be that the alcohol content got high enough to impact a bear,” Cross said of nature’s hard cider. “But if you Google it you’ll find a lot of anecdotal information; the most famous one is a YouTube video of a bear in Colorado. And I feel pretty certain that bear had one of the worst neurological diseases, called Tay-Sachs. It’s the bear version of mad-cow disease. If you see it that way, it’s not funny.”

Songbirds are known to indulge in fermented fruit a little too much, according to Maine Audubon Naturalist Doug Hitchcox. In the case of pine grosbeaks and Bohemian waxwings, two species that love berries, the intoxication can result in impaired function.

“It’s very limited what research there actually is. One study that made the rounds a year ago showed that drunk birds slur when they call,” Hitchcox said. “Waxwings are the most common to be seen drunk. And those species have enlarged livers. I don’t know enough about evolution to know what caused it, but that’s been proven with dissected birds.”

Hitchcox has seen pine grosbeak overindulge in the berries on fruit trees at the University of Maine, when he was a student there living next to an ornamental garden. One day when the pine grosbeaks were fluttering around and flopping on the ground, Hitchcox grabbed his camera and went for a closer look.

“They’d fly to the ground and flop around. It was pretty clear they were intoxicated,” he said. “Usually birds don’t let you get anywhere near them. It was unusual behavior. Those birds were literally falling over. They were drunk.”

To be clear, not my idea of a glass of hard cider.


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